With emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer-BionTech COVID vaccine newly approved for children 5-11, many parents are asking the question- should we vaccinate our kids?
A week after the CDC endorsed the recommendation to move forward with vaccinations with the age group, experts on the pandemic discussed the impact that these vaccinations could have. At an EMS briefing on Nov 12, Dr. Monica Gandhi, Professor of Medicine at UCSF, stressed that vaccinating children in this age group could lead to a significant reduction in the infection rate. The Delta surge caused a tremendous uptick in infections because of the low adult vaccination rate, so vaccinating e children is critical, Dr.Gandhi explained . However, as children already have robust immune systems, the CDC has approved a much lower dose of 10 micrograms for them instead of the 100 micrograms dose approved for adults.
Immunizing 28 million children would boost the overall immunity pool and control over the virus, said Dr. Gandhi. She verified that children will need booster shots, just like adults. Data from Canada shows that the Pfizer vaccine works better, both against infection and severe disease, if the interval is extended to 7-8 weeks.
Many parents have welcomed the news. An informal poll of several Indian American families with young children in San Diego indicated everyone was on board with getting their children vaccinated as soon as possible, unless a child had an underlying medical condition.
Dr. Jennifer Miller, a pediatrician at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, said her office was inundated with parents wanting to get vaccinations for their children. Unfortunately, patients of color and lower income groups appeared fearful of the vaccine. They expressed a “wait and see” attitude for their children even if they were vaccinated themselves, Dr. Miller explained, because of concerns about side effects and future fertility issues, although current research shows no evidence of this.
Dr. Miller also noted increasing signs of mental health issues, depression, and anxiety among teens who were unvaccinated, because they were not allowed to participate in sports and clubs. Deciding not to get the vaccine equals a decision to get the virus, stated Dr. Miller, especially in California where Covid19 infection rates are rising sharply. With the holidays approaching she urged parents to vaccinate their children to prevent infections spreading at gatherings.
However, the panelists agreed that some parents just don’t believe in vaccinations, regardless of their social status or income levels.
School nurse Madison Sandoval admitted that though her school was more privileged, kids faced bullying and cyber bullying from their peers about vaccinating or not, and their parents needed more education on the issue.
Maria Meraz, Founder-Director of Parent Engagement Academy in LA, said there were fears about the vaccine among the mainly Hispanic and low income community with whom she works Many do not believe in the vaccine at all. They lack access to national news reports on main stream media and other reliable news sources, and get information from friends, neighbors and sources like Twitter and TikTok. Language issues and lack of transportation to pharmacies and medical centers have created additional barriers said Meraz. Misinformation about the vaccine has fueled vaccine hesitancy. She urged public schools to play a stronger role in promoting vaccination benefits to low income parents.
There may be a rise in infection rates even in vaccinated countries, explained Dr. Gandhi, caused by the gradual decrease in antibodies over time. But being vaccinated can help prevent future hospitalizations, as seen in countries like India and the UK. Dr. Gandhi warned that the arrival of a new and unknown pathogen in our midst made protecting children paramount. The panelists reiterated the safety of vaccines and the importance of masking and good sanitation.
Susheela Narayanan is a retired early childhood educator and Professor of Child Development from San Diego Mesa College. A longtime resident of San Diego, she is active in her community and with Rotary as an advocate for social issues, especially involving women, children and refugees. She enjoys hanging out with her family of two children and two teen grandchildren who live in the Bay Area. Her interests include reading, music, travel, gardening and writing human interest stories.
Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.